Cher and Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck.
MGM/Everett Collection

There weren’t many great romantic comedies in the late 1980s, which made the appearance of Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck a small miracle, like the special, glowing, love-bestowing moon that figures in the movie’s plot. Cher plays Loretta Castorini, a 37-year-old widow who has dutifully agreed to marry a man who’s all wrong for her, Danny Aiello’s stolid Johnny Cammareri. When Johnny is called away to Sicily to tend to his dying mother, he sends Loretta on a mission to connect with his estranged brother. Ronny (Nicolas Cage) is a bitter and somewhat socially inept baker with a prosthetic hand, and he blames Johnny for the accident that caused it. But Loretta is having none of his complaints and nonsense, and that’s how he knows immediately she’s the woman for him: his passionate streak simply has no outlet, until he literally sweeps her off her feet and carries her “to the bed,” at which point she knows she too is a goner and falls into a fake Sarah Bernhardt-style swoon. Cher, with her pinpoint timing and satiny voice, was one of the most delightful actresses of this era; Cage was still near the beginning of his career and figuring out what he could do, which, it turns out, was a lot. As the firebrand romantic Ronny, with his sad, mooing eyes, he gives one of his finest and funniest performances. Moonstruck—written by John Patrick Shanley—tells us that the wrong person is often the right person, and that doing things out of duty is sometimes the surest way to mess up your life. Those ideas come straight from the classic romantic-comedy handbook, but they’re truths, not truisms. And to watch these characters find those truths for themselves is a particular kind of moonlit bliss.

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